Sirkeci is the area squeezed between Sultanahmet and the historical section up the hill and the historical docks below. Like Sultanahmet and the Palace (historical peninsula) this district, too, was one of the earliest Byzantine settlements and lay directly outside of the old palace walls.
Here was the site (Called Eugeniu by the Byzantines) of the Prosforion and Neorion harbors (harbors that were complete entities with ship building areas, docking grounds for trade ships and other harbor facilities.) In time the Neorion Harbor filled in with silt but it was cleaned in 697 by the Emperor Leontios. This was also the time of the great plague epidemic which took great tolls on the Byzantine populace.
By the end of the 10th century the district had fallen into the hands of Latin colonists such as the Genoans and Pisans who settled here and who gained control over the lucrative harbor trade. Sirkeci continued to be of importance in Ottoman times as it was adjacent to the palace and to Bab-i ali, the seat of the government. The homes of the notables were, however, further up the hill and Sirkeci remained a ’’middle ground” between those areas and the transportation routes below. The building of the railroad with the main station in Sirkeci made the area even more important during the Republic era but with the transition to road transportation that began in the 1960s Sirkeci became less of a drawing point. For some years Sirkeci was home to “cheap accommodations and regional hotels,” but these, too, began to slide up the hill towards Laleli and Aksaray causing a major change in the urban texture of the district.
Today many people, both Turks and foreigners alike, are rediscovering Sirkeci as a veritable treasure trove of history. A walk through its narrow and winding streets, a glimpse into the workshops of the artisans still continuing traditional trades, and the discovery of the wonderful historical buildings found here is a delightful experience. Further down the hill towards Eminonu one can visit the “New Mosque” and the Egyptian Spice Market, both exciting glimpses into a medieval past.